Waiting and Seeing in Syria

27 Aug

Media and policy commentary on Syria seems to rely on a stark split: pro-Assad and anti-Assad. Certainly this is the main fault-line in the country, but it strikes me as overly-simplistic. Humans love oppositional binaries; they play a key part in explaining the social world. Thus good versus evil, traditional versus modern, rational versus irrational are crucial in constructing and maintaining narratives on everything from world affairs to family dynamics. And so the reportage of Syria in which there seem to be pro-Assad loyalists and anti-Assad activists coalesced around the Free Syrian Army … and nobody else in between.
I suspect that this is simply too clean. Large numbers of Syrians are doing what any sensible person would be doing: waiting to see which way the wind is blowing. If Assad clings on then it might be prudent to be loyal to the regime. If he topples, then it would be prudent to be on the side of the Free Syrian Army. People like to be on the winning side. Thousands of people claimed to be on the steps of the General Post Office in Dublin on Easter Monday in 1916 when Patrick Pearse read out the proclamation of independence. In reality, there were just a few dozen. But once Irish independence became a realistic prospect, the number of retrospective 1916 rebels swelled.
Of course, many Syrians do not have the luxury of waiting in the long grass. Because of kinship, faith or professional affiliation they have to identify with one side or the other. For many others, the civil war has come to them: forcing them to flee or to offer help to what ever troops are parked outside. But for a good proportion of the population, it is wait-and-see time. Yet the Manichean narrative persists.

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